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How Medical Practice Managers Can Reduce Staff Stress


High stress among staff contributes to absenteeism, lower productivity, and poor teamwork. Here's what administrators can do to help.

At medical practices across the country, staff members are being asked to do more with less. They face larger workloads and increasing demands as practices struggle with declining reimbursement, increasing overhead, and uncertainty due to healthcare reform.

The effect at many practices is high stress among staff. And that, said Sarah Holt, a presenter at this year's Medical Group Management Association Annual Conference in San Diego, can have a disastrous effect on a practice's bottom line.

High stress contributes to high absenteeism, lack of concentration, and poor teamwork Holt, who is a practice executive at Cape Girardeau Surgical Clinic Inc., in Cape Girardeau, Mo., told attendees during her session, "Team Stress: Controlling Its Impact on Your Bottom Line," on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

"A high-functioning team is your best opportunity to maximize revenue," she said. "The way we get the most done in our healthcare organizations is through good teamwork."

During her session, Holt shared tips for how medical practice managers can better identify stress, reduce it, and prevent it. Here are some of the highlights:

Be aware of work conditions that lead to high stress. The more aware medical practice managers are of common conditions that cause stress, the more likely it is they can prevent those issues from occurring in the first place. 

Here are some of the common workplace conditions that Holt said lead to high stress:
• Tasking staff with responsibilities for which they are over or under-qualified.
• Managers that don't allow participation in decision-making.
• Managers that communicate poorly with staff members.
• Lack of support from supervisors and/or coworkers.
• Uncertainty regarding expectations and responsibilities.
• Job insecurity and lack of opportunity for advancement.
• Unpleasant physical conditions at work. 

Other sources of stress include impossible deadlines, lack of appreciation, emotional isolation, lack of adequate resources, abusive coworkers, inability to unplug from work during personal time, and arbitrary management decisions, said Holt.

Be aware of warning signs. Identifying a highly-stressed employee early on will enable managers to address issues sooner and, hopefully, prevent problems from escalating.

Warning signs of high stress include physical symptoms, such as fatigue, sleep problems, and headaches; psychological symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive difficulties; and behavioral symptoms, such as absenteeism, decreased work performance, moodiness, apathy, and frustration, said Holt.

Be proactive in addressing stress. It is the responsibility of practice managers to actively work to reduce staff stress, said Holt. And while Holt said she understands that many of the pressures staff faces are out of a practice manager's control, she said managers must still try to do all they can to help. "Management has the authority and the responsibility to make things in the workplace different," she said.

Here are some ways Holt said managers can better address and prevent workplace stress:
• Lead by example and stay positive.
• Stay focused on building a strong team regardless of outside influences. Your attitude should be: In our own department we're going to have a good team, and though we may not be able to change some of the struggles we're facing, we are going to change how we react to them, said Holt. 
• Match work responsibilities with knowledge, skill level, and capabilities.
• Practice participative decision making.
• Reduce uncertainty through good communication.
• Create opportunities for social interaction.

Also, Holt suggests that practice managers work toward implementing a stress reduction program at their practices focused on identifying problems, incorporating interventions, and evaluating progress.

"It takes a long time to build a high-functioning team - it's a lot of work, but teams are also fragile," said Holt, of the importance of proactively working to reduce stress in practices. "You can poke a hole in a good team in a heartbeat."

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